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Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar On The Lessons She's Learned


Think back to right after the November presidential election, when a handful of states were too close to call - Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It was the call in Pennsylvania the morning of November 7 that handed Joe Biden the necessary electoral votes to secure the presidency. That same morning, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani made a last stand at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, claiming that Biden's victory in the state was due to voter fraud.

Well, the person in charge of overseeing the election in Pennsylvania was Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. She stepped down from the job this past Sunday. So we have invited her to an exit interview to talk about what lessons she's learned and her thoughts on elections looking forward.

Kathy Boockvar, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KATHY BOOCKVAR: Thanks so much for having me on, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Can we just start right there, with November 7? It was a Saturday morning. Where were you when The Associated Press and the networks called Pennsylvania, which meant they called the presidency, and then Giuliani kicked off that Four Seasons parking lot press conference?

BOOCKVAR: I was home. I was in my home. We had the TV on, and we were paying close attention.

KELLY: Sure.

BOOCKVAR: I was, you know, closely in touch with a lot of counties around the state who were working around the clock, as you know. And they were letting me know. And our team was working to make sure that every vote was counted accurately and securely.

KELLY: I'm thinking back to the first U.S. senator to come out and say he would object to certification. That was on December 30. And it was Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. And he put out a statement that read - and I'll quote - "I cannot vote to certify the Electoral College results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws." Kathy Boockvar, as the person who was in charge of enforcing state election laws, how do you answer that?

BOOCKVAR: You know, he was one of the many officials who, rather than leading and telling the truth, he perpetuated the dissemination of disinformation and lies, which were intentionally spread to subvert the free and fair election and undermine people's faith in our democracy. That directly led, then, to the assault on the walls of our democracy on January 6. One of the things that I really want to make sure that we're doing now is recognizing that we are at a watershed. We are at a critical moment in American history, and it's time for unity, and it's time for truth, and it's time to end the assault on our facts and our democratic process.

KELLY: I don't know exactly what was on Senator Hawley's mind when he wrote that, but I can say that Republicans were raising questions about advice that you had issued to county election officials who were trying to figure out how to apply the state's new mail voting law, advice on things like drop boxes and how to handle late-arriving mail ballots - things like that. With the benefit of hindsight, is there any advice you would change, anything you would have done differently, in terms of how Pennsylvania handled all of the mail-in ballots?

BOOCKVAR: Well, you know, Act 77 - which was historic bipartisan legislation, passed in late 2019 - made more changes to how elections are run in Pennsylvania, how voters vote in Pennsylvania, than any laws passed relating to elections in the last 80 years. And you combine that with the fact that we had new voting systems in every county in the state, we had a global pandemic, and we had civil unrest. And in a perfect world, you would spread out change over time, and you would have resources to match those challenges.

KELLY: So you're saying, yes, absolutely, there might be things that could have unfolded differently or could have unfolded better if you'd had all the time in the world. But you didn't, and so in terms of how things unfolded, you stand by the decisions that your office made.

BOOCKVAR: Absolutely. And it's not just the decisions that I made, right? Over 60 decisions were issued across the country - federal, state and local decisions. And many of the judges, at least in Pennsylvania, who heard these cases were Republican judges or appointed by President Trump himself. And they found, again and again, that my guidance was consistent with Pennsylvania law, that it didn't violate the Constitution, that it was accurate and threw out these lies, saying there was no evidence of any of it.

KELLY: I mentioned that you resigned last week. This was for reasons unrelated to the election, but it was for an error that your office made - a proposed state constitutional amendment that was not advertised, as required. Governor Wolf has apologized. Republicans are calling this further proof that you are incompetent. They say that under your leadership, the election in Pennsylvania was mismanaged and flawed. How do you respond to that, Kathy Boockvar?

BOOCKVAR: This is absurd. You know, individuals made a mistake. These are individuals that did not track, as they were supposed to, the constitutional amendment. I'm extremely disappointed and angered and have issued my own apology as well to the victims impacted. But I will say that...

KELLY: And you clearly thought it was a big enough mistake that you have resigned.

BOOCKVAR: Yeah, I - look; I was not notified of the amendment or the error that occurred. But I'm the face of the agency, and I've always believed that accountability and leadership must be the cornerstone for public service. So I took responsibility on behalf of the department. And I am immensely proud. We carried out a free, fair and secure election amidst a global pandemic, with over 300,000 more Pennsylvanians registered to vote than ever before, and more than 800,000 more voters cast ballots in the November election than ever before. These are tremendous accomplishments of the election officials at the federal, state and local levels, and I'm so proud of all that they accomplished.

KELLY: I want to ask about the GOP-led push to change voting laws, to make it more difficult to vote. In Pennsylvania, a bill has been introduced to eliminate no-excuse mail-in voting. Is that, in your view, a good idea?


KELLY: Where do you rate the chances of that effort succeeding?

BOOCKVAR: I think it's very unlikely that it will succeed. You know, the whole mission of Act 77 was both to expand access for eligible voters, while at the same time making sure it's secure. Anybody who understands election administration understands that accessibility and security are absolutely not mutually exclusive and, in fact, can be advanced at the same time concurrently. That's what we've done, and that's what needs to continue to do.

So, you know, you look at the millions of people - between the primary and the general election in 2020, more than 4 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail, more than 4 million Pennsylvanians. And I am still getting - just a couple of weeks ago, I got a message from somebody I didn't know. He said, my 90-year-old mother voted by mail for the first time. She was afraid to come out, but she was able to vote by mail. And she was so grateful, and I am so grateful that you stood up for all options for Pennsylvanians to vote. We need to make sure that every voter has access to this fundamental right, while at the same time making sure every manner of voting is also secure.

KELLY: That is Kathy Boockvar. She was, until last week, the secretary of state for Pennsylvania.

Thank you.

BOOCKVAR: Thank you so much for having me on the show. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.